Let’s face it, when you’re neck-deep in confirming catering for your event, the last thing on your mind is where the tomatoes come from. Which is why I hope you might take a few minutes and check out today’s Short Film Friday: Food Chains.
Did you know that in the US, 90% of winter tomatoes come from Florida? And did you also know that advocacy work in the state is helping tangibly improve farm working conditions? Under the Fair Food Program, tomato pickers in the state may receive an extra $60 to $80 a week because of the penny-a-pound premium paid by several high-profile companies. This list includes event caterers you may do business with: Aramark, Bon Appetit, Compass Group and Sodexo. According to the New York Times, participation in the program can mean a 20 to 35 percent weekly pay increase for the estimated 80,000-100,000 seasonal workers who pick Florida tomatoes and average about $8.75 an hour for piece-based work.
Now I don’t know about you, but I admit I have a pretty “soft” job. No getting up before the crack of dawn hoping to be chosen from a labour line-up in order to make a basic living. No stooped over, slaving in a hot open field with little to no shade. No eating my lunch without washing pesticides from my hands. No hoisting 32-pound buckets of tomatoes over my head 157 times just to keep up with minimum wage each day. No being subjected to harassment. No dry, cracked hands caked in dirt to scrub when I get home and start the cycle all over again.
But in my “soft” job, I have:
- The responsibility to understand my supply chain. This includes the caterer, distributor, produce boards and farmers who are buying and selling food commodities on my behalf, often in regions half a world away where there may be many degrees of separation between me, and the person who picked my food.
- The ability to embrace and leverage my buying power. Last year an event I worked ordered over 3,440 pounds of tomatoes for attendee lunches. That is over 100 buckets of tomatoes, which would earn a picker outside of the Fair Food Program about $50. Were my caterer participating in the penny-a-pound program, I’d pay about $34 extra for all the tomatoes needed to feed my hungry attendees. Doesn’t seem like an onerous investment for me, but the gap could make a world of difference for the farm worker.
- The power to influence by asking for change. I’ve already identified two caterers I will work with this year who have not signed on to the Fair Food Program. While I’m not sure I can influence them to participate in the Program in time for my event, I am committed to asking them if they’re aware of it, and would consider signing on. We’ll see how far I get.
So I’m starting with asking where my tomatoes come from, and from there hope to continue asking about other popular produce items that are not yet a focal point of the Fair Food Program, but experience similar issues, including wine grapes, and strawberries: two event staples.
What can you do? Start by taking three minutes to watch, and think about how your job and lifestyle intersects with fair food. I’d love it if you returned to share how you plan to act.
Photo gallery: A New Day in America’s Tomato Capital
Further reading: The Coalition of Immokalee Workers